Ghastly Love of Johnny X, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/07/13 15:09:57

"Space Grease."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FEST: Many films boast of firsts, but "The Ghastly Love of Johnny X" has to settle for lasts: Last film shot on Kodak's Super-X black-and-white film stock. Last role for Kevin McCarthy of "Invaders of the Body Snatchers" fame. Last... Well, almost certainly not the last tongue-in-cheek homage to 1950s sci-fi movies. Probably not even the last musical one - though the songs do give it a little more energy than usual.

Johnny Xavier (Will Keenan) is a teenager from outer space, banished from his home world for being too much of a rebel, banished to... Earth! When next we see him, he's chasing down Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks), the girlfriend who was also banished, who falls in with nice soda jerk Chip (Les Williams), who figures they can hide with his uncle King Clayton (Reggie Bannister), who is trying to mount a comeback show for legendary rock & roller Mickey O'Flynn, The Man with the Grin (Creed Bratton), who may be a big part of the reason Johnny got himself banished to Earth in the first place!

That description is relatively straightforward compared to the way the story actually winds up running; it's a mess of antagonists suddenly being sold as heroes, sidekicks becoming villains, and couplings that happen and disintegrate seemingly at the writers' distracted whims as opposed to any sort of thing that the audience feels from the characters or might find satisfying. The characters do everything for what feel like arbitrary reasons, right from the set-up of "you can come home if you do this" and then never bothering to convince the audience of why Johnny would even want to go home.

The "whatever works right now" screenplay does get the movie from song to song, though, and the songs aren't bad at all. They're 1950s pastiche pieces, naturally, and pretty good at their jobs of getting into the characters' heads and being cheerful, poppy confections in their own right. Heck, when characters start monologuing exposition or trying to advance the plot through conversation after a song, many will beg them to stop talking and start singing again, because everyone involved seems so much better that way. The choreography seems fairly capable, to my relatively untrained eyes - co-writer/director Paul Bunell may not stage the most elaborate dance numbers, but he doesn't set up his cast and crew to do more than they can manage.

He's got some cast members who can sing a bit, too. Actually, Will Keenan and De Anna Joy Brooks are pretty good on that count; they can carry a tune and belt the big moments out. Even when they're not singing, they're giving that sort of performance; Brooks especially vamps hard whether she's singing or not, and that at least gives Bliss a personality. Keenan's Johnny is pulled in enough different directions by the script that he can't play as big, but he's seldom dull. Creed Batton and Jed Rowen are amusingly goonish as Mickey and Johnny's fellow exile Sluggo, although the less prominent characters tend to be kind of flat, looking the part but not necessarily selling it. Kate Maberly is a late-arriving jolt of hyper-perkiness, though, and Paul Williams is apparetly still up for anything as talk show host "Uncle Quilty".

It's put together fairly well, although it's a shame that the festival wasn't able to screen it on film (if you're going to go out of the way to shoot on the good stuff...). It leaves some of its period design vague, at times simultaneously seeming to be both the fifties and the seventies, but looks decent. It's obviously low-budget, but at its best doesn't use the movies it references not being very good as an attempted source of humor - although, the rest of the time, it's fairly groan-worthy.

A little camp goes a long way, after all. "The Ghastly Love of Johnny X" is squarely aimed at those who actually wouldn't mind a lot, especially the folks who like musicals and don't really care that the story around the songs is pretty bad. Even if you do care about that, the movie as a whole is generally good enough, and a lot of these homages don't get close to this good.

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